Yes, Time and Eternity is an eccentric RPG based around the protagonist, Zack, being assassinated during his wedding ceremony, only to discover his soon-to-be wife is actually two women's souls trapped in the same body. As the ladies travel back in time to try and prevent Zack's death, Zack will be faced with the decision of which lovely lady he truly adores -- his fiancé Toki or the brash woman that shares his fiancé's body, Towa. Toki and Towa; Time and Eternity.
Feeling like I just slapped you in the face while screaming Japan is the proper reaction at this moment. There are more red flags waving in the first few hours of playing Time and Eternity than in front of the United Nations. Noted? Noted. Let's talk about the game now.
Starting out in Time and Eternity I expected a standard JRPG with a very confusing premise, despite better than average localization from NIS America, a la Hyperdimension Neptunia. I was surprised to find that Time and Eternity was very straightforward in its premise however, with rather unique combat mechanics. More than that, I was surprised to find that most of my time with the game was taken up by dialogue, to the extent that I initially thought I was playing a visual novel or dating sim. I'm still unpersuaded that it isn't, but figure the world will open and combat will figure more prominently further on. At least I was spot on with regards to NIS America's localization. They continue to do the job right.
A Harem of Not Real Women
Time and Eternity opens with a conversation between Zack and his fiancé Toki discussing how excited they are to finally be married so that they can finally spend the night together. In fact, they haven't even so much as kissed yet. Their talk is filled with sexual innuendo that should go right over the head of younger audiences, make young adults smirk, and fills the eyes of fan-service hunting otakus with glee. If you're not one of the aforementioned, it should be immediately apparent that Time and Eternity may not be for you. Unless you've got a touch of perversion to you.
From there one of the game's more interesting gameplay mechanics begins. Three of Toki's friends appear, initiating a long bit of exposition, followed by the opportunity to talk with each one individually. This becomes the game's home base where quests typically begin and end, where the player can save, or where the player can simply converse with the game's various characters. Each of the characters involved at that point of the story will have their portrait listed at the top of the screen. Selecting each will start a bit of dialogue with that character. If the portrait is marked with an exclamation point, obviously something important is related to their discussion. Something about sitting in this room and talking with a harem of ridiculous ladies cracking ridiculous jokes, each of them fidgeting between a handful of animations endlessly repeated -- this was the Time and Eternity experience. No more, no less.
Eventually the wedding cinematic happens and we're introduced to our second potential love interest, Towa, and now we get to actually play the game. We take on the role of Toki (and eventually Towa) as she explores a semi-open area chock full of random battles. Combat is an active battle system that allows you to switch between melee and ranged at will. Typically each fight is a process of mashing a standard attack until you've built up enough SP to cast combat attacks, mixed in with reactionary presses when enemies attack. Yes, you can defend or even counter attack enemies, but you also have to be aware of their timing so they don't interrupt combinations. Add in flourish finishers and fights can become a sort of rhythmic dance. Even early in the game I found this intriguing, so I'm actually excited to make some progress, gain some levels, and try it out further.
At the heart of the Time and Eternity experience is the decision between Toki and Towa, and it's extremely apparent even just a few hours into the game. On the combat side of things, the player will be able to swap between playing either of the girls -- either with items or through a mechanic that swaps them each time the player gains a level. On the narrative side, and this is probably the most important feature of the game, there's a slider, an affection meter, that gauges your interest in one or the other girl. The game makes it clear early on that this meter can never be equal; you have to decide on either Toki or Towa. How do you shift the meter? Throughout the game's story you'll be prompted with conversation options. Depending on which response you decide, the meter will move one way or the other. I didn't get to try out many of these, but the ones I did were very clear which choice would go over well with which girl. Hopefully they become more ambiguous later in the game.
There are two things that are great about Time and Eternity. First and foremost, and this could and should be either a huge positive or a huge negative in each person's mind, is that the game makes no apologies for what it is. It's 100% JRPG inspired by modern otaku culture. In fact, the protagonist is quite clearly intended to be representative of the otaku playing the game: never been kissed, obsessed with sex and indecisive about which of half a dozen girls he wants to obsess over. Even the game is presented through what I'll coin as the otaku-gaze. At home you sit at a table surrounded by female characters in very revealing clothing as they shift between fan-service focused animations -- even conversations with individual characters do the same. In combat, you play as Toki/Towa's pet, always following just behind her as she explores and fights. Yes, her skirt rarely follows the rules of gravity. Again, Time and Eternity makes no apologies here.
Secondly, Time and Eternity has a fairly solid combat and progression system to back up its otherwise perverse themes. Combat is fun, as switching between melee and ranged combat feels visceral, with a solid learning curve to keep things interesting. Even the mechanic of switching between Toki and Towa introduces a level of tactical complexity that is as rewarding as it is surprising. Just like Hyperdimension Neptunia, I find myself driven to play more despite the game obviously being directed at a different audience. Though at least with Time and Eternity it's very straight forward, where in Hyperdimension Neptunia I had no idea whatsoever what was going on the whole game through.
Take heart that Time and Eternity is exactly the same experience as what the original game in Japan is, for better or worse. While I wouldn't recommend the game as an an option for fans of JRPGs looking for an alternative between, say, Ni No Kuni and Shin Megami Tensei IV, it does scratch that niche. There's a very particular audience that can't get enough of games like Time and Eternity, and they'll be please to know this is exactly what they want more of. If you think you could be a member of that audience, trust me, there are worse games to test yourself with.
Time and Eternity is a PlayStation 3 exclusive set for release on July 16. Stay tuned for more information on it and NIS America's other upcoming JRPG localizations, including Guided Fate Paradox and Disgaea D2, in the months to come.